U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King told Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday that the risk of harm from oil and gas drilling off Maine’s coast “far outweighs any potential benefit.”

“We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine’s fisheries and other coastal resources, threatening to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well,” King and Collins wrote to Zinke in response to a controversial proposal to reopen the North Atlantic to energy exploration.

Gov. Paul LePage’s office, meanwhile, confirmed that the governor supports the Interior Department’s proposal to examine offshore energy opportunities all along the Outer Continental Shelf, including the North Atlantic. But LePage expects that “significant regions will be excluded from the final plan” in response to concerns raised during the public process.

Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposed a dramatic shift in energy policy that would potentially reopen more than 90 percent of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas exploration. Currently, roughly 94 percent of the coastline – including all of the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards – is off-limits to oil and gas drilling, a stance President Trump has pledged to change.

The bureau proposed 47 potential lease sales to energy companies through 2024, including two in the North Atlantic region that stretches from Maine to New Jersey.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation – Republicans Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and King, an independent – subsequently said they opposed oil and gas drilling off Maine’s coast.

And on Monday, Collins and King followed up their statements with a strongly worded letter citing Maine’s estimated $1.7 billion lobster fishery as well as other fishing industries and tourism.

“These critical industries are dependent on Maine’s pristine waters, and even a minor spill could damage irreparably the ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, including the lobster larvae and adult lobster populations therein,” wrote Collins and King. “Further, offshore seismic testing exploration has been shown in some cases to disrupt migratory patterns of fish and sea mammals. In other words, we believe the potential harm posed by oil and gas exploration and development off Maine’s shores far outweighs any potential benefit.”

A public meeting on Interior’s draft five-year plan will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center. It is one of 23 meetings being held nationwide by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The proposal encountered immediate pushback from Democratic and Republican governors all along the Atlantic seaboard. But Maine’s Republican governor is part of a coalition called the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition that supports a broad review of offshore energy potential.

In a statement released late last week, LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said the governor had not yet reviewed the Interior Department’s proposed five-year plan. But Rabinowitz said LePage “generally supports efforts to make good use of our indigenous resources and improve the United States’ energy independence and security.”

“The governor supports (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s) approach of beginning with a broad area in the initial proposed plan in order to allow public input and analysis of all available resources, with the expectation that significant regions will be excluded from the final plan based on environmental sensitivity, fishery industry concern, tourism value or other areas of specific concern,” Rabinowitz said.

“The governor believes in a balanced approach that places a priority on protecting our environment and traditional industries but that does not close the door on jobs and lower energy costs for Maine people,” she wrote.

The bureau’s draft plan is available at www.boem.gov/NP-Draft-Proposed-Program-2019-2024/

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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